Album: Sigur Ros

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The Independent Culture

Big in Portugal and revered in their homeland of Iceland – where last year their album Agaetis Byrjun received the daunting accolade of "Best Album Of The Century" (so soon?) – Sigur Ros are about as uncompromising as modern rock music gets. Not so much in the subversive extremity of their music, which is more angelic than antagonistic, but in their obstinate refusal to conform to even the most basic of music-industry needs, which reaches almost heroic proportions on this, their second international release.

Big in Portugal and revered in their homeland of Iceland – where last year their album Agaetis Byrjun received the daunting accolade of "Best Album Of The Century" (so soon?) – Sigur Ros are about as uncompromising as modern rock music gets. Not so much in the subversive extremity of their music, which is more angelic than antagonistic, but in their obstinate refusal to conform to even the most basic of music-industry needs, which reaches almost heroic proportions on this, their second international release.

() is a reviewer's nightmare: like the album itself, the eight constituent tracks also pointedly lack titles, while the packaging bears no information save the band's name and website address, from which the relevant details can apparently be obtained (although on every occasion I've tried, it has proven stubbornly resistant to access). Not only that, but the band's songs are sung in no known language, like the more imponderable sections of David Bowie's Low, rendering them impervious to lyrical analysis. Listeners are invited to send in their own interpretations of the "words" to the band's website and the most frequently-occurring phrases will be adopted as the "official" lyrics – a cute idea, but one dependent on access to the website in the first place.

Which leaves one with very little to go on save for the music itself, which is funereally slow in both tempo and rate of development, though not without its moments of transcendent beauty. Sigur Ros tracks tend to start quietly, swell or smoulder gently for anything up to 15 minutes, then subside slowly to silence, leaving a faint impression of mood rather than melody. Track two, for instance, opens with a timid, unhurried guitar figure, over which a gently keening vocal eventually resolves into a repeated chorus of "You sallow low fire, you silo" whilst organ and strings provide a rain-streaked backdrop. Vocalist Jonsi Birgisson clearly has a penchant for certain recurrent assonances: the hymn-like fourth track features the similar locution "You sigh oh, you sigh oh no fallow" over a blend of glistening electric guitar and low, ritualistic tom-toms which recalls The Cure's more subdued moments.

A more enduring comparison for the album as a whole would be with Spiritualized (minus the boogie tendencies), particularly when the sepulchral organ and methodical piano cycles are softly burnished by understated horn and string tones, as on tracks three and five. Sigur Ros can be both as uplifting and as stupefying as Jason Pierce's outfit, though there's something purer and more pristine about their methods. Precious, yes; pretentious, certainly; but in the face of today's relentlessly aggressive commercialism, few approaches could be more revolutionary.

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